Developments in the 19th Century


Art Styles in 19th century - Art Map


Leon Spilliaert



(b Ostend, 28 July 1881; d Brussels, 23 Nov 1946).

Belgian painter and designer. His initial sources of inspiration were the bottles and flasks he saw in his father’s perfumery shop in Ostend. However, in 1889 he studied briefly at the Terenacademie in Bruges. His early work, already impregnated with Symbolism, was fed by his readings of Friedrich Nietzsche and Maurice Maeterlinck, for example. From February 1903 to January 1904 he worked for Edmond Deman, the Brussels publisher associated particularly with Emile Verhaeren, who encouraged him. In 1904 Spilliaert stayed in Paris, where he was on the fringe of Picasso’s circle and discovered the work of Munch and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose influences he acknowledged. He continued to spend most winters in Paris to keep in touch with the city’s cultural life. A stomach ulcer that gave him insomnia turned him into a nocturnal stroller, which gave rise to innumerable works in a mixture of watercolour, pastel, coloured pencil and Chinese ink. They revealed the beauties of Ostend by night: deserted dykes and quays, arcades, street-lamps shining through fog and mist. Ditch and Casino at Ostend (1908; Brussels, priv. col.) prefigures de Chirico. Between 1907 and 1913 he developed an original form of Symbolism, tinged with Expressionism and governed by a strict sense of synthesis. He painted numerous self-portraits, works steeped in mystery and melancholy (e.g. Woman in the Train, 1908; Brussels, Mus. A. Mod.) and those inspired by the contrast between a solitary figure and the vastness of the sea or sky (e.g. Woman Bather, 1910; Brussels, Mus. A. Mod.). He also created geometric landscapes that verged on abstraction and were unique for the period (e.g. Woman on the Dyke, 1908; Brussels, Mus. A. Mod.). At the same time he was developing Art Nouveau motifs as in Pietà (1910; Brussels, Mus. Ixelles), where whiplash arabesques animate the waves. From 1912 he executed large-scale pastels (900*700 mm) of various harbour scenes, with large schematized figures that influenced Constant Permeke (e.g. Fisherman’s Wife, 1912). He moved in literary and cultural circles and was a friend of the Belgian playwright Fernand Crommelynck, as well as of Stefan Zweig who had followed his career from its beginnings.



Self-Portrait in Mirror




The Posts


Vertigo, Magic Staircase


The Crossing


The Forbidden Fruit




Portrait of Gorky


Woman in a Hat


The Absinthe Drinker




Woman on the Road






Moonlight and Light


Bathing Woman


Le tunnel


La digue




La dame dans le train


Fille de pecheur


Vision. Elie sur le char de feu


Marine. Plage a maree basse


Port d'Ostende, quai avec deux figures


Port d'Ostende, quai avec chariot


Dirigeable dans son hangar




Port de peche, Ostende






La lessive




Les mats


La chambre a coucher




Salle de tables d'hotes


Galeries royales d'Ostende


Femme de pecheur face au bassin


Arbres, blanc et noir


Troncs de hetres


Le couple


Femme en pied


Le vent


Marine. La prele


Woman with a Large Hat


White Robes

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